How to pack a backpack - correctly!

How to pack a backpack - correctly!

  • 29 August 2019
  • |
  • First Ascent

A good quality backpack is equipped with all the support functions, to ensure a comfortable fit, but if your backpack is not correctly packed, it will have a huge impact on your carrying ability and efficiency, no matter the size of your load.

Whether you are traversing the coastline or summiting Mount Everest, packing your backpack the right way is one of the most important things that you can do to prepare for your adventure.

First Ascent - How to pack a backpack - Correctly!


When purchasing a backpack for your next adventure, the following points will assist you in selecting the correctly sized pack:

  1. Purpose of your trip (Multi-day trip vs. Day trip)
  2. Volume (Establish how many items you will need to carry for the duration of your trip, this will help you to determine the size of the bag which you’ll need)
  3. Size (the size of your body and the volume which you can carry according to your weight)

First Ascent - How to pack a backpack - Correctly!


When packing your backpack, follow these pack weight guidelines:

  • A loaded backpacking pack: should not weigh more than about 20 percent of your body weight (e.g. if you weigh 80kgs, you should not be carrying more than 16kgs).
  • A loaded day hiking pack: should not weigh more than about 10 percent of your body weight (e.g. if you weigh 60kgs, you should not carry more than 6kgs)

Use the above guidelines to help you keep your pack at a manageable weight. Having a correctly weighted pack will make your load more comfortable and easier to manage, as well as prevent possible injuries from arising due to an over loaded pack.


  1. Identify the following about your trip
    • Duration
    • Weather conditions
    • Type of terrain
    • Facilities (Shops nearby, bathroom facilities and other amenities)
    • Water (Is there drinkable water en route and at the campsite)
    • Load share (will you be able to share the load with another individual)
  2. Compile a list of all items needed for your trip, this will help you to identify the items which are essential and the items which are optional extras.
  3. Once your list if final, lay out all of your gear, grouping them in the following manner
    • Heavy items (food, water, tent base, etc.)
    • Lightweight items (clothing, tent cover, etc.)
    • Frequently used items (map, snacks, phone, etc.)
    • Less used items (sleeping bag, mattress, etc.)
  4. Finally, it is time to get packing!

First Ascent - How to pack a backpack - Correctly!


Now that you have all your gear grouped, use the following guidelines for packing:

  • Heavy gear – packed close to your back / the back of the pack
  • Light gear - away from the back / the front of the pack
  • Often used items – side pockets/ top section of the pack
  • Less used items – at the bottom of the pack


  • Always, pack as light as possible!
  • Don’t let items take up more space than they need too, for example: you can store food in a pot, and socks in a shoe. Try experimenting with folding vs. rolling clothes.
  • Make sure all compression straps are tightened to keep your pack as slim and as sleek as possible
  • Avoid tying gear to the exterior of your pack, as these items can easily hook onto branches or fall out while hiking. If this is not an option, choose lightweight, bulky items, which can’t be easily damaged.
  • Carry a zip lock bag or plastic packet for waste along the route. Remember to leave no trace – read more on the 'Leave no Trace Principles' here.
  • Pack in a small medical aid kit and make sure to store it in an easy-to-access compartment
  • Make sure your pack comes with a built-in rain cover, and if it doesn’t try to invest in one, as there is nothing worse than having wet gear and apparel.
  • Store your sleeping bag in a waterproof bag – having a wet sleeping bag will make for a rather uncomfortable night and if conditions are severe, a dangerous one too, if you don't have an item to keep you warm. 
  • Pack in an extra rope or shoelace –  whether it be to fix a broken strap on your backpack or for tying something down – this little item will come in handy.

First Ascent - How to pack a backpack - Correctly!